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Incoming, outgoing Liberal MPs meet, PM calls it chance to 'reflect' on campaign
OTTAWA – Today’s meeting of the 157-person Liberal caucus and outgoing MPs on Parliament Hill was about “reflecting” on the campaign and the electoral message Canadians sent when reducing the Liberal team to minority status, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“This is a moment to gather amongst friends to reflect on the experiences we had over the past few months… understanding what Canadians told us about the need to work hard every day and work together to respond to their concerns,” Trudeau told reporters on his way into the meeting.
On his way out two hours later Trudeau said it was a “lovely meeting,” but offered no other comment.
The informal “gathering with national caucus” included a combination of newly-elected, re-elected, and defeated Liberal MPs.
Liberals welcomed the fresh faces and celebrated their victories, but also took the chance to say goodbye and glean parting wisdom from the MPs who lost their seats.
On their way in, Liberals were both reflective on the losses but optimistic about the gains that the party experienced over the 40-day election campaign.
Incumbent rookie Liberal MP Steven Guilbeault said that what he’ll be asking first is: “How can I be a good MP?”
It was thought that inside the closed-door gathering the Liberals would likely plot out some initial plans for the new parliament, hear perspectives on what the priorities and approach should be to the new minority government dynamics, and allow MPs to offer their takes on what worked and didn’t, but most MPs coming out said the meeting really was more personal than political.
That included returning MP Maryam Monsef and defeated MP Matt DeCourcey announcing their engagement. “We’re very happy,” Monsef said on her way out.
“Today from my perspective the mindset is really to celebrate the colleagues who have given so much to Canadian politics, but we will have ample opportunity to discuss… to look at both from an election readiness point of view, House strategy, but today is really about the MPs who served,” said Liberal minister and one of the campaign co-chairs Navdeep Bains.
Liberal MP Chris Bittle described the meeting as a “good discussion, good reflection, and a good opportunity to hear from colleagues who won’t be joining us in the next phase.”
Western alienation talk
Caucus members also spoke to reporters about the challenge facing Trudeau when it comes to how to address the representation gap the party now has in Alberta and Saskatchewan since being shut out electorally.
When asked how he intends to approach what appears to be a growing sentiment of western alienation, Trudeau said it remains a “significant issue,” and noted that he is still reaching out to leaders from the western provinces to understand what more the federal government can do to govern for the whole country.
“The prime minister will be examining every procedural or structural option,” said defeated longtime Saskatchewan MP and cabinet minister Ralph Goodale. He added though that more critical will be resolving the more “substantive” question of what the issue or issues were that led to that outcome.
Defeated Edmonton MP Randy Boissonnault said that the Liberal team has a lot more listening to do.
“We have to have those face-to-face conversations with people and get past the vitriol on social media, look people in the eyes and not just talk about our agenda, but how do we keep building a unified Canada?” he said.
Liberal whip Mark Holland, who organized the meeting today, knows what it’s like to be defeated. He lost his seat in 2011, after sitting through three minority parliaments prior, and returned in 2015 and he says from his experience “trying to be clairvoyant” about what’s ahead in a minority parliament is often “ill-fated.”
“There’s going to be a need for us to work with different parties on different issues, so I think that compromise is going to be very fluid and dynamic,” Holland said.
In the last parliament Trudeau faced criticism for his and his inner circle’s caucus management and communication style. These frustrations became apparent during the SNC-Lavalin scandal. Trudeau came out of the months-long affair vowing to improve the environment in which MPs can bring concerns to him, and added a new caucus-PMO liaison.
The minority dynamics are going to mean some changes in the day-to-day realities on Parliament Hill, which will likely be noticed most by the MPs who were new in 2015 and spent four years building up their procedural understandings.
In minority governments the opposition parties hold the majority of seats at committees, and given the numbers-game aspect, whips for each party will have to keep a close eye on the number of MPs they have on-hand. This will likely mean less travel and more House time for MPs and cabinet ministers.
“There may be a difference of opinion but people are going to have to talk those through and that to me is the key to making Canadians believe that this parliament will work,” said Liberal MP Anthony Housefather when asked whether it’ll be a challenge for Liberals, as they no longer have the ability to shut down potentially probative or politically-charged hearings. He chaired the House Justice Committee in the last parliament, the epicenter for much of the SNC-Lavalin-related drama.
Liberals will also have to consult in a more meaningful way, and constantly find compromises with the other parties or be confident to force an election on the issue at hand. Factoring in where they may be able to find support, or will face pushback, will need to be done on every item of government business they look to advance.
Cabinet unveiling coming
Next week Trudeau is set to hold one-on-one meetings with each of the opposition leaders to establish potential places for common ground and support for the Liberal agenda.
Trudeau, when asked, said it’s “certainly” his plan to lead the Liberals into the next election, and said he will determine when the House of Commons will convene, whether in weeks or months, after these meetings.
Then on Nov. 20, Trudeau will unveil the makeup of his new cabinet. He has been in private meetings for the better part of the last two weeks where he’s likely been having conversations about the composition of his front benches.
With all but two current ministers holding their seats and several newcomers considered by the party to be star candidates, there’s going to have to be a shakeup but how dramatic it’ll be remains to be seen.
Unlike yesterday’s 7-hour Conservative caucus meeting, the Liberals the Liberals did not decide on the four Reform Act measures that determine how much power caucus members will have. Those votes will likely come at their first official caucus confab.
By the end of that lengthy airing of Conservative campaign shortcomings and successes, Scheer came out asserting his team is unified and ready to hold the Liberals to account.
Scheer called for Trudeau to convene the new parliament as soon as possible. It’s yet to be unveiled when the new session will begin. In 2015 the throne speech was held in early December and MPs sat for a brief time before breaking for the holidays and returning late January.